Rethinking Stephen Harper’s Climate Strategy (Part One): Part One: U.S. experience shows that Canadian government must lead public opinion if we are to avoid another Kyoto

Climate Change, Commentary, Environment, Tom Harris

The 15 year battle in Canada over the Kyoto Protocol ended last week when the Federal Court ruled that the Stephen Harper government's withdraw from the agreement was legal. Countries that do not meet their emission targets and did not withdraw before the end of 2011, as allowed by Kyoto’s Article 27, will soon have to face the music for having violated the treaty. Thanks to our Government’s clear thinking, Canada will not be one of those nations.

But the Canadian Government, and many others in developed countries, have not been so clear-thinking when it comes to future international climate commitments. Unwittingly, they are getting us back into another Kyoto.

At the climate conference in South Africa in December, delegates from 194 countries, including Canada and the U.S., agreed to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. Under this agreement, the Canadian, American and other governments pledged to work with the UN to establish, by 2015, a global apparatus to force countries to enable legally-binding greenhouse gas reduction plans starting in 2020. Environment Minister Peter Kent boosts the plan, saying repeatedly, we support the establishment of a single, new international climate change agreement that includes greenhouse gas reduction commitments from all major emitters.”

The Durban plan advances, “in a balanced fashion”, the UN asserts, the implementation of the December 2010 Cancun Agreements that Canada, the U.S. and many other countries say provides the framework for future legally-binding deals. U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern stated that the Cancun Agreement “is a very good step and a step that’s very much consistent with U.S. interests and will help move…the world down a path toward a broader global response to changing – to stopping climate change.”

But western counties are being hoodwinked again. Cancun has an opt-out clause for developing countries that allow them to agree to legally-binding emission cuts but then never actually carry them out. Developed nations do not have this option. Cancun states this twice, as follows:


  •  “…Parties should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries, and bearing in mind that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries…”


  • “Reaffirming that social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing country Parties, and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs…”


Since actions to significantly reduce GHG emissions will usually interfere with development priorities, developing countries will soon realize that an agreement based on Cancun will not limit their emissions. Such a treaty would then work in the same asymmetric fashion as Kyoto.

Under the Cancun Agreement, UN monitoring is to be much more intrusive in developed countries than in developing countries.

For example, the world is expected to simply believe China when they assert that certain domestic GHG reductions have been accomplished – the UN cannot inspect. This has the strong potential to result in significant reporting fraud as has occurred in a number of other fields concerning China (see here and here for recent examples). International inspection and monitoring of developed countries’ emissions will be very strict, however. Here is a sample of what is to come if the UN get their way. It is hard to imagine the UN “rebuking” China “for poor reporting of progress to cut greenhouse gases” or “ordering” China to do anything, as they have done with Australia.

If a Cancun Agreement-based treaty becomes international law, we will have little idea of what emission cuts will actually be happening in countries such as China. Once again, there will be anything but a level playing field between developed and developing countries no matter what politicians say.

In the final analysis, the only really significant difference between a Cancun-based greenhouse gas reduction treaty and Kyoto may be that developing countries are expected to submit their intended emission cuts to the UN. But their obligations to carry those cuts into effect would appear to be essentially meaningless. The current approach is clearly designed to persuade the United States to participate in an agreement for binding international emission limits. Then, the U.S. and everyone else would be effectively included in an extension to the Kyoto Protocol after all.

The only solution that makes sense for Canada and the U.S., and indeed all developed nations, is to get out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) that spawned the Kyoto, Cancun and Durban agreements in the first place. Like Kyoto, the FCCC text lays out simple steps for withdrawal, stipulating that, “Any Party that withdraws from the Convention shall be considered as also having withdrawn from any protocol to which it is a Party.”

But the Canadian government is afraid to do this, thinking they must wait for public opinion to change before they can take sensible action. Learn why this approach is a serious mistake in part 2 of this article.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition (